Featured School Papers:

Know Your J-Jargon

preliminary hearing : A court hearing held to determine whether there is probable cause that a defendant committed a crime and whether the defendant should be bound over for grand jury action or trial in a higher court. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

Learn more J-Jargon »

HSJ Headline News

Review of JHS journalists’ work hurts paper, profession

News and Tribune
Jeffersonville, Ind.

August 16, 2011

SOUTHERN INDIANA — “I have to control it,” Jeffersonville High School Principal James Sexton told the News and Tribune last week about his demand to essentially edit the school’s newspaper, The Hyphen, and its yearbook, The Topic.

It appears to this editorial board that control is exactly the issue here, rather than teaching and learning the craft of journalism.

There’s a rift between Sexton and Kelly Short, JHS teacher and newspaper and yearbook adviser. The dispute is over Sexton’s directive for himself or another administrator to review content of the two publications prior to them being printed. This goes against previous policy at JHS and at high school newspapers across the country, although some do have prior review.

Sexton says his demand centers around the desire to make the publications look more professional by correcting typographical and spelling errors, as well as legal concerns the adviser might have missed.

As an editorial board and working journalists, we believe that can’t be the main reason. It has to be about control, just as Sexton mentioned — control about what goes in the publications.

Part of any craft is gaining experience from mistakes, as Short noted in a recent News and Tribune article.

“Like any other class, the newspaper is a learning experience,” she said. “If we are making errors, we need to evaluate them and see where errors are made. No feedback was ever given after three attempts,” Short added of her request for comment from Sexton on past publications.

What is unique about newspapers and journalism classes is what is learned beyond English structure — learning to be an independent thinker; learning to make decisions; learning to question what people perceive to be the truth; learning to not take information at face value; learning to balance right and wrong; learning to reason things out in the name of fairness.

You learn to question yourself, and question others. It is a process unique to itself.

Why wouldn’t a principal want his or her school’s students to learn how to be independent and think for themselves? To seek more knowledge? It goes against the idea of building a well-rounded student.

A decision in favor of prior review also makes the newspaper process artificial, because Sexton has asked to see the work three days before it goes to print. That’s not the real world of journalism. For example, this sentence is being typed 41⁄2 hours before copy deadline for the News and Tribune.

And finally, such a move would undermine the ability and credibility of one of JHS’ own teachers, in this case Short. We have to ask, will JHS’ other media — the student-run television station, for example — be subject to such review? If so, how can that possibly work? If not, what’s the difference? Both student groups are learning how to be journalists.

If the administration believes Short is not doing her job, it needs to make a change. If not, it needs to let her teach journalism to students, what she was trained to do and is paid to do.

Administrators at Greater Clark County Schools are meeting with Sexton and Short to mediate this issue today. Hyphen staffers past and present have spoken up and emailed the school board and the News and Tribune in support of Short, and free speech.

This editorial board also urges the school to let the adviser teach and the students to learn the job that might become a career for them someday — the right way.

That’s the issue here, the students. They are the ones who want to learn a craft and should be allowed to do so as professional journalists do.

To allow less only hurts the students — and the search for the truth — now and in the future.

Copyright 2011, News and Tribune. Reprinted with permission

Return to HSJ Headline News Home »